Kristy Davies, Projects Assistant at be artsy, an NGO supporting communities through the arts, writes for PhotoVoice on their participatory photography project in Nepal. Through their own photographs, girls and women share their thoughts on menstruation and the tradition of ‘chhaupadi’, a practice that demands women be separated from their homes during their period.
Photography has a way of opening people’s eyes. It can enable a person to reflect on their life, their context, and the lives of those around them and across the globe. A photo can express what someone understands the world to be, and stimulate discussion about what has been captured. For us at be artsy, this component of photography is critical to our work with girls, women, and communities in remote villages of West Nepal.
be artsy is a small not-for-profit from Barcelona working in Nepal. We use art and participatory photography to empower communities, with a special focus on women’s issues.
Women in West Nepal face many challenges based on their biological womanhood, and the natural cycle of menstruation. They have limited access to toilet facilities, management tools such as pads and tampons, clean water, and information about what their period is. This results in young girls missing school, experiencing shame and humiliation, and psycho-sexual exploitation. Furthermore, the lack of knowledge and information about menstruation contributes to the ongoing tradition of ‘chhaupadi’, where girls and women are considered ‘unclean’ while menstruating and ostracised from their homes and communities.
Although outlawed under Nepali law, the practice calls for women and girls to stay in cowsheds or makeshift huts while menstruating. This leads to injuries and health issues from animal attacks to smoke inhalation, as well as instances of rape and death. As part of the Rato Baltin project, our workshops, while focusing on hygiene, menstrual and sex education, use participatory photography to stimulate discussion and reflect on the practice.
Change cannot be led from outside: it must come from the community members themselves, to challenge deep rooted belifes and promote positive social change. be artsy volunteers and local nurses conducting the program never outright mention the practice of chhaupadi, or encourage participants to record their experiences of it. Quite simply, it emerges in the photographs on its own.
Girls are given cameras to take home, record their lives, and what they do and do not like about menstruating. It asks girls to think about what they would change about their experiences, if they could. Their photographs are then displayed in town centres, so that the entire community can reflect on and discuss what they are shown. We believe honest discussion and education, facilitated through photography, is key to social change.
Some months after, we return to villages to see the girls again and analyse if anything has changed since our first visit. Through photography walks with the girls, we see if the images we were first shown are different or remain the same. Organising a community screening and exhibition using instax (poloroid) photos, everyone in the village is again involved in discussion and reflection.
We hope to hold larger exhibitions in Nepal and Europe to shine a light on and increase awareness of chhaupadi. Any funds raised from the photos will be returned to the girls in the form of something they need, like shoes, books or clothes.
This is just one area of our approach: we also incorporate direct methods such as disseminating menstrual cups to girls. While chhaupadi is still practiced, girls using the cup can access safer hygiene management and feel confident attending school. Increasing the number of cups and hygiene kits is a critical issue for be artsy volunteers.
Currently, the be artsy team is revisiting villages in Achcham, Kalikot and expanding into two new villages. Chhaupadi may not disappear quickly, but we will continue to work tirelessly in pursuit of improving the lives of girls and women in West Nepal who suffer because of something as natural as their periods.
To find out more about be artsy please visit: www.beartsy.org or follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. If you would like to learn more about how you can support their work please click here.